there are these big stories, stories that aren't necessarily long but are tremendously meaningful. they carry seeds of big things, of fundamental truths, that whisper to us of some big answer, the kind of answer we might wish for or even dread but don't dare believe. chipping away at the bumpers in the pinball game of our brains, these are ideas that compel us, that make us pause, and consider just what it's all about, and where we fit in. there's a story like that in this book. it's called the flitcraft story. you can read it, out of the context of the novel here: http://unfutz.blogspot.com/2006/11/3089898-hammett-flitcraft-story.html
i love that story. i come back to it constantly when i read other stories, looping back to thinking who am i? can i change? can anybody? and how it is a perfect encapsulation of all the hope and fear i have about being and identity. i find myself muttering about beams falling, and looking up above me, hoping for one to come crashing down, to start me in a different direction even if it won't be entirely fresh.
i know. at this point you're probably thinking that i'm supposed to be reviewing the maltese falcon and i haven't said very much about the novel as a whole. it's not my favourite hammett book, though i love it for showcasing so many of hammett's strengths. and absolutely, even without the flitcraft story, the maltese falcon has a lot to recommend it: hammett's powerfully terse prose, biting, honest dialogue, the prototypical hard-boiled blond devil called sam spade with all his "v"s, and a story of misdirection rightly recognized as bedrock in the detective novel genre. so i can honestly say even without the flitcraft story this novel is a success, and as a part of a novel hammett sets us the story within the story in a way that balances the characters, and the novel itself: in the midst of all these lies, and games, there is that knowing that there is that answer just out of reach.
hammett is one of my all-time favourite authors. i think every book he wrote is worth reading, and that his writing is instructive. i will not compare him to others -- i believe as much as possible, one has to take him entirely on his own merits.
due diligence done.
last year, a recurrence of flitcraft obsession led me to the quote below, which comes from a memoir written by hammett's daughter, jo: Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers. it made me really happy that he took such pride in the thousand words that mean so much to me, especially that last line.
"My father and I were out on the lawn in the backyard of my mother's house in West L.A. There was a blanket on the grass and cards spread out. My father had been playing solitaire. He was in a good mood, leaning back against the lawn chair, wearing trunks and the sandals he'd asked me to find in Westwood. And out of nowhere particular he told me the Flitcraft story ... He told it with such delight and enjoyment, like a funny story you want to share ..." She describes the story, then adds, "What I remember is his delight in the story -- as if it were a gift he had received that was just right. As a boy he had wanted to find the Ultimate Truth -- how the world operated. And here it was. There was no system except blind chance. Beams falling."
beams falling. adjust to them not falling. or perhaps pray for them to, as the case may be.